Canada’s agricultural sector is a major contributor to Canada’s economy. The industry contributes about 7.4 percent, or $139.3 billion, to Canada’s gross domestic product (GDP). In 2020, roughly 2.1 million people were employed in the agricultural industry which provided 1 in 9 Canadians with a job.

In Windsor-Essex County, the agricultural sector is a key industry providing tens of thousands of jobs. The region possesses roughly 80 percent of Ontario’s greenhouse vegetable acreage. As home to more than 4,500 acres of greenhouse operations, Windsor-Essex County is known as the second-largest vegetable greenhouse cluster in the world.

The agricultural industry is an integrated supply chain

There are different ways companies can be involved in the agricultural industry. Businesses involved in primary agriculture may operate through a combination of farms, nurseries, or greenhouses. Food and beverage processors take raw food materials or substances and turn them into new finished products, ready for use or consumption. Additionally, semi-finished products created by food and beverage processing can be used in further manufacturing. Finally, food retailers, wholesalers, and foodservice providers are responsible for getting the finished products to consumers.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs is responsible for farming in Ontario

Canada’s agricultural industry has evolved over time. Over the last 50 years, the average farm size has doubled, in part due to technological advances. Due to Canada’s size, the primary agricultural industry in Canada is highly diversified nationwide. However, most of the industry is centred in the Prairies, Quebec, and Southern Ontario.

The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs is tasked with supporting the growth in Ontario’s agri-food industry. The government ministry also provides business support to farms, ensures sustainability through research and innovation, and is working on expanding agriculture in the North.

What to know before starting a farm in Ontario

For those interested in starting a farm in Ontario, there are a few things to know.

Farm Business Registration (Agricorp)

First, some farm operations require a farm business registration number. Whether this is required depends on the gross farm income. If a farm business makes more than $7,000 in farm income, it must be registered with Agricorp. On registration, farmers will be part of the Farm Business Registration Program developed by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. To join, businesses pay a fee and select the farm organization they wish to join. The potential organizations to join are the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario, and the National Farmer’s Union-Ontario. The yearly registration deadline is March 1.

There are benefits to registering your farm with Agricorp. One such benefit is that those who take part in the Farm Business Registration Program pay only 25 percent of property tax on agricultural land. Without registration, farmers would pay tax on 100 percent of their rural property value, which is determined by the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation.

Resources & Due Diligence

Of course, starting and operating a farm go beyond simply registration. Hopeful farmers will want to ensure they access the proper education to ensure their farm business will thrive. It is also important to secure the proper funding to commence this new business venture. The province offers some funding programs and services for farmers. Farmers should also consider obtaining a soil analysis of their farmlands and ensuring that local zoning rules and bylaws don’t interfere with their business plans.

Agricultural employees are protected by the Employment Standards Act

Potential farm businesses must take care when setting the terms of their relationship with their workers. Agricultural employees in Ontario, including temporary foreign workers, are protected by the Employment Standards Act.

Workers are classified under four categories:

  1. Farm employees;
  2. Harvesters;
  3. Near farmers; and
  4. Landscape gardeners.

Each category carries its own legal requirements, and it is possible for an employee’s work to fall into more than one of these categories.

Farm employees

Farm employees are workers employed on a farm who work in primary production of agriculture. This work includes feeding and caring for certain livestock, planting crops, cultivating, and pruning. However, the Employment Standards Act does not necessarily apply to all farm employees. Specifically, the law does not apply to those working for an employer who services multiple farms or temporary help agencies who possess contracts with more than one farm.

Farm employees are not entitled to the following:

  • Minimum wage;
  • Daily and weekly limits on hours of work;
  • Daily, weekly, or bi-weekly rest periods;
  • Off-time between shifts;
  • Eating periods;
  • The three hour rule (if an employee who regularly works more than three hours a day is required to attend work but works less than three hours, despite being able to work longer, must be paid for at least three hours);
  • Overtime pay;
  • Public holiday pay; or
  • Vacation with pay.


Harvesters are employees who bring in or harvest crops of fruit, vegetables, or tobacco for the purposes of marketing or storage. Harvesters are usually entitled to minimum wage, but there are some exceptions. For instance, harvesters who work on a piece work basis or who are offered room and board by their employer may not need to be paid minimum wage.

Harvesters are not entitled to the following under the Employment Standards Act:

  • Daily and weekly limits on hours of work;
  • Daily, weekly or bi-weekly rest periods;
  • Off-time between shifts;
  • Eating periods; or
  • Overtime pay.

If a harvester has worked for an employer for 13 consecutive weeks, they are entitled to public holidays and public holiday pay, as well as vacation pay.

Near farmers

Near farmers’ work involves growing flowers, trees, or shrubs for retail or wholesale; the growing, transport and laying of sod; the breeding and boarding of horses on a farm; and the keeping of fur-bearing mammals. Generally, these jobs are exempt from various entitlements in the Employment Standards Act. Exemptions include:

  • Daily and weekly limits on hours of work;
  • Daily, weekly, and bi-weekly rest periods;
  • Off-time between shifts;
  • Eating periods;
  • Overtime pay; or public holiday pay.

Landscape gardeners

Landscape gardening employees include park gardeners and greenskeepers on golf courses. This work involves raking, watering, weeding, planting, trimming and maintaining plants and trees, preparing land for planting, installing rock gardens, park gardening, and keeping gold courses greens. Landscape gardeners are not entitled to daily or weekly limits on hours of work, overtime pay, or public holiday pay.

Legal protections for foreign national workers

For those hiring foreign nationals (either those in Ontario for future immigration or under a foreign temporary employee program), it is important to be aware of the Employment Protection for Foreign Nationals Act which provides protection for those who are otherwise not covered by the Employment Standards Act.

Contact the Lawyers at Willis Business Law for Guidance Operating in Ontario’s Agricultural Industry

There are many considerations that those who operate in the agricultural industry must be aware of before and during the operation of their business. The skilled business lawyers at Willis Business Law are committed to helping their agricultural clients succeed through the best operational and employment-related practices.

Willis Business Law is a firm dedicated to community – the community within its office and the Windsor-Essex community at large. Located in the heart of Windsor’s financial district, the firm also represents clients with commercial real estate, corporate governance, privacy issues and more. To schedule a consultation with a lawyer, please call 519-945-5470 or contact the firm online.

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